By Greg Reinbold
Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014, 8:55 p.m.
The Blairsville Support Group Against Drugs will be collaborating with the Armstrong-Indiana-Clarion Drug and Alcohol Commission to bring members of the community face-to-face with the realities of drug addiction.
Beginning Oct. 15, the Blairsville support group will operate the Candle, Inc. Reality Tour program under the Drug and Alcohol Commission’s license using community volunteers.
“We’re partnering with them to help them get up and going in the Reality Tour,” Drug and Alcohol commission deputy director Carrie Bence said. “They felt that there was a need in that area specifically, so they could tap into Blairsville-Saltsburg School District, WyoTech, more that end of the county.”
After the first year, the Blairsville group plans to purchase its own license for the copyrighted program, which costs $3,000 for the initial license and materials $500 per year for license renewal and updates according to Bence.
Reality Tour presentations in Blairsville are scheduled for the third Wednesday of October, November, January, February, March and April, according to Blairsville Support Group Against Drugs organizer Karen McMillan.
““It speaks for itself,” McMillan said of the tour. “It’s well-known in our area, anybody who’s ever been to it, even recovering addicts, people who were actively addicted, that took the time and went to those, and it was life-changing.”
The Drug and Alcohol Commission offers its Reality Tour on the first Wednesday of each month from August through May (except January) at the Indiana County Jail.
The tours feature dramatic scenes portraying drug addiction, including representations of peer pressure, arrest, overdose and a funeral.
The Blairsville group has attracted about 18 volunteers to present the tour but is actively seeking more help. McMillan said students can earn community service hours toward graduation requirements by helping out with the tour.
“We have some students from Blairsville High School that are actually volunteering,” she said. “We have people in recovery that are volunteering, parents who have lost their kids, people who just come to our monthly meetings and a couple others.
“We are able to sign off on hours for them for community service, so if we can just get them involved even to help with registration at the door, setting up, tearing down, anything like that, we’re able to give them hours for community service. We’re trying to get the kids involved as much as we can.”
Local businesses have contributed donations and props for the tour already, McMillan said, and the group is seeking monetary donations to put toward purchasing the Reality Tour license and materials next summer.
McMillan said the Blairsville Reality Tour will be able to accommodate between 30 and 50 individuals compared to the 18-person limit on tours at the jail and hopes the tours in Blairsville are packed each month.
“There’s parents out there that probably don’t even know their kids are addicts,” she said. “I didn’t even know my son was. I knew he had an alcohol problem; I never in my life thought I’d ever get a call he overdosed on heroin… Way too many parents still think they don’t need to get educated about it and it will never happen to them.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 105 people in the United States die each day as a result of drug overdose and 6,748 are treated in emergency departments for misuse or abuse of drugs. The rate of drug overdose deaths in the nation more than doubled between 1999 and 2010.
Reality Tour participants must register at least one week prior to the tour. Registration forms are available through the Blairsville Support Group Against Drugs Facebook group, the Armstrong-Indiana-Clarion Drug and Alcohol Commission website or by calling 724-549-2679.
The tour is open to children age 10 or older accompanied by a parent or guardian. Tour participants will meet at the Blairsville Community Center by 5:45 p.m. on tour dates and are instructed not to bring personal belongings other than coats and keys on the tour.
The Blairsville Support Group Against Drugs meets at 6 p.m. on the second Sunday of each month in the Blairsville Borough building.
Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913 or firstname.lastname@example.org.